What Is the Mandela Effect?
In recent years, a mass phenomenon known as the Mandela effect has become popular online. Traditional media and social networks have served as a sounding board for the popularization of the term, as well as the conspiracy theories and crazy ideas associated with it. Many talk about the Mandela effect, but few really know what it is.
The term was coined by Fiona Broome in reference to the memory of Nelson Mandela’s death in prison during the 1980s. Nelson Mandela actually died in 2013, but Fiona and hundreds of others thought they remembered with clarity the coverage of the news of the death of the South African leader thirty years ago. What is behind this phenomenon? Don’t go away because we’ll tell you all about it in this article.
How does the Mandela effect work?
False memories shared by a group of hundreds or thousands of people are known by the term the Mandela effect. It’s said that you’re experiencing the Mandela effect when you share a memory that you believe to be true with a group of people. When corroborating this memory, you realize that it actually refers to a false or misrepresented situation.
This effect is a mass phenomenon, and can only be understood as such. Of course, this doesn’t prevent a person from developing the effect individually. Often, when discovering that the memory one has about something is actually false, the person feels bewilderment, disbelief, and even the suspicion that they’re being deceived.
And, as could be expected, this has given rise to dozens of conspiracy theories. Parallel worlds and conspiracies by governments to manipulate reality at will are the best-known theories. Of course, the Mandela effect can be explained from more realistic postulates. Before introducing them to you, let’s look at some examples that will surprise you.
Examples of the Mandela effect
Every year thousands of cases of the Mandela effect are reported around the world. They’re associated with historical, cinematographic, political, artistic, and other events. Some of the best-known are the following:
- Thousands of people claim that the Monopoly man wears a monocle when, in fact, he doesn’t.
- Those who grew up during the 1990s remember that Pikachu from Pokemon had black stripes on its tail, when in reality it’s a solid yellow color.
- Darth Vader doesn’t say “Luke, I am your father”; he says “No, I am your father” in the second Star Wars movie.
- Thousands of people claim that the curly design on the Ford F is recent, although it was actually included during the 1990s.
- Some say that there were 4 passengers in the car where Kennedy was traveling on the day of his assassination, when in reality there were 6.
- In The Silence of the Lambs, Hopkins greets Jodie Foster by saying “Good morning”, not “Hello Clarice”. Thousands claim to remember the latter.
- Some fans of the George Lucas franchise claim that the android C-3Po is completely gold, when in fact his right leg is silver from the knee down.
- Thousands think the Mona Lisa’s smile was more expressive a few decades ago than it is today.
- Some viewers claim that the monkey George, from Curious George, had a tail. And yet he doesn’t, neither in the books nor in the series.
- The kidnapping case of Charles Lindbergh’s son was solved and the person responsible was sentenced to death. Some don’t remember this and think that the case is still open.
- Many think that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was canonized in the 1990s by John Paul II. In fact, she was canonized in 2016 by Francis.
- On the subject of Pope John Paul II: many believe they vividly remember that he was murdered. He actually died of multiple organ failure (because of Parkinson’s and septicemia).
- Thousands claim to remember that the man in Tiananmen Square was run over by the tank. This never happened.
- Although there was no film by the name of Shazaam starring David Adkins in the 1990s, many claim to have seen it.
We could tell you more and more examples of the Mandela effect, but, with this selection, we’re sure that you can understand what it’s all about. It’s likely that you have been surprised by some, even that you think you remember a couple of the false events as true. How can we explain it from a scientific point of view? The answer is found in false memory.
Why does the Mandela effect occur?
False memory, also known as false memories, is the preferred candidate to explain what the Mandela effect is. This refers to complex processes in the brain designed to catalog an event that never happened as true. At the time it was studied by Freud and neurologists like Pierre Janet.
False memory is a phenomenon that has been studied for over 100 years and is relatively well understood. We have even been able to replicate processes designed to implant false memories, such as the Deese-Roediger-McDermott task paradigm.
Some researchers suggest that inattention may be the key to the so-called Mandela effect. As you have been able to corroborate, many of the examples given are due to very subtle characteristics which tend to go unnoticed.
This absence of detail causes the brain to fill in the blanks through what some call confabulation. You’re not actually lying to yourself or others, you just try to add the missing parts to achieve the memory of a whole event and not just a part. Suggestion and mass psychology can also explain some cases.
Is it a memory problem?
No, the Mandela effect is not related to memory problems. It’s a relatively common phenomenon, one that’s connected to certain disorders. If you have experienced such episodes, you may experience a loss of ability to store memories, but this isn’t necessarily anything to worry about.
Experts warn about the influence of the Internet when cataloging shared memories. Within social networks, forums and blogs, communities are created that are willing to support each other in promoting an idea. The interest or need to share a place with these groups can lead many to endorse a memory, news, or event that never happened.
Although we think we know everything about the Mandela effect, in reality there’s still much to do about it. In the future, thousands and thousands of false events will be believed to be true. You’ll see how the news you see on TV today could be misrepresented or told differently tomorrow.It might interest you...
- French, A. The Mandela Effect and New Memory. Correspondences. 2019; 6(2).
- Prasad, D., & Bainbridge, W. A. The Visual Mandela Effect: Evidence for specific shared false memories in popular iconography. Journal of Vision. 2021; 21(9): 2121-2121.
- Prohaska V, DelValle D, Toglia MP, Pittman AE. Reported serial positions of true and illusory memories in the Deese/Roediger/McDermott paradigm. 2016 Aug;24(7):865-83.
- Robins, S. K. Confabulation and constructive memory. Synthese. 2019; 196(6): 2135-2151.